Throughout the political race this summer, Ms. López has made it clear she understands the problems of the Latino community, both locally and nationally.
“I’m Mexican-American, born and raised in the Old South End—so being Latina and the challenges my family faced really helped to develop who I am,” she said.
Ms. López cited her experience as county auditor and recorder as what sets her apart from the other challengers for Toledo mayor.
“None of them have ever run an office, with all the responsibility on their shoulders—the budget cuts we had to make, the changing of the quality of the work that we do for the public, instilling outstanding customer service,” she said. “When we made budget cuts, we saved dollars and really changed the face and the culture of government. None of them have that level of experience and be able to do that in a collective bargaining agreement.”
Ms. López struck a nerve with some public agencies and institutions during her time as county auditor, by encouraging property owners to challenge their values during the recent recession. Those efforts cost Toledo Public Schools and others tax dollars when some property values were lowered as a result. But she won the respect of many taxpayers, and she hopes, voters, for that approach.
“Not only have I proven to the public that I can be a great mayor, but that I can do it with a union workforce,” she said. “I think we need to stop pointing the finger at management and the workforce and just hold everyone equally accountable.”
Ms. López gave herself a grade of “B-” for her performance in the first mayoral debate.
“I could do better. I could speak shorter,” she admitted. “I needed to come out stronger in my opening statement.”
Many political observers believe the mayor’s race will come down to Mayor Mike Bell versus one of the two Democrats: Ms. López and former Toledo City Council president Joe McNamara. Hoping to court loyal Democrats, McNamara has turned to attacking Ms. López for giving employee raises and collecting campaign donations from workers.
“I think he’s coming after me because his message is not resonating,” she said. ‘It’s a campaign that’s failing to connect with citizens. I think clearly Joe is worried about me and he’s forgotten we’re running against Mike Bell. Anytime someone goes negative and spends that kind of money they see me as a threat. I think it’s surprising that a liberal Democrat is attacking a minority female.”
Her main campaign themes center around creating quality jobs, safer neighborhoods, and a transparent city government that prides itself on public service.
Most of the major candidates also have stated they intend to focus on improving education as mayor, even though, as an elected official, they have no direct decision-making authority on Toledo Public Schools or Washington Local Schools operations.
Ms. López has pledged to appoint “a blue-ribbon committee” to see what can be done.
“We’re going to bring in all of the entities who work with youth and it’s going to be a children-first policy,” said the divorced mother of two boys. “We’re going to sit down and try to get everyone to approach it from a holistic approach. I think the future of our workforce, the future of our city is dependent on significant changes that we’re going to have to make on how we serve our children.”
Ms. López pointed out that too many children in Toledo are living in poverty, a figure that she believes is much more troublesome in African-American and Latino families.
“We cannot even be a contender for economic development from national investors if we don’t have a city that is strong and stable,” she stated.
Ms. López is the single mother of two sons.
Although Toledo’s metro unemployment rate has dropped from nearly 14 percent to just over nine percent in the past few years, the economic climate locally has drawn comparisons to the bankruptcy situation now facing Detroit, the Motor City. Some have even called Toledo “Little Detroit”—fearing the Glass City could end up in a similar plight.
“I don’t want to be Little Detroit,” said Ms. López. “I think this city cannot wait for new leadership. I don’t think it’s turning around fast enough.”
While Toledo has seen significant investment and added jobs from Chrysler and GM, as well as the opening of a new casino, Ms. López still criticized the mayor for his economic development efforts.
“Underemployment is no different that unemployment,” she said. “People are having to work two and three jobs to make ends meet, because it’s not the same quality of life we’ve been experiencing before the recession. We’ve not been able to turn that around fast enough. It’s the quality of life, quality of the wages.”
“The conditions of our streets, the conditions of our neighborhoods—if he goes door-to-door and talks to citizens, I think he’s going to get a rude awakening,” she said.
Ms. López has received strong union backing in her bid for mayor, even though many in organized labor are waiting until after the Sept. primary to endorse a candidate.
Teamsters Local #20 made a strong showing at a rally outside One Government Center recently, just before Ms. López turned in her petition signatures to become mayor. The transportation union represents 5,800 members locally, 60 percent of whom live in the Toledo city limits. But Teamsters leaders made it clear their mission is to defeat Mayor Bell because of his support of SB 5 and the contract concessions he forced on municipal unions to balance the budget.
“It’s always hard to beat an incumbent, but we think we can do it,” said Bill Lichtenwald, Teamsters Local #20 president.
Whether that makes organized labor “pro-López” or “anti-Bell” forces may be open to interpretation as a result.
“I think it’s pro-López because I believe in collective bargaining, pro-López because I haven’t forgotten where I come from, pro-López because I have a track record of being able to work and create an office that’s productive under a union contract,” the county auditor said.